So much of living simply has to do with setting yourself free: free from stuff, free from stress, free from debt and free from dependence. I don’t know about you, but I value my freedom more than anything in the world. (I also love my stuff, but that’s a topic for later discussion). In any case, both my partner Ryan and I have committed to making changes that will allow us to break free from dependency as one of the first steps on the road towards self-sufficiency. After all, how can we ever be self sufficient if we are dependent on others for survival?
Our big focus lately has been on our finances and on breaking a filthy “habit” that has been robbing us of our money, health and independence: dun, dun, dun… Yup, we are quitting smoking.
I’ll begin with our decision to quit smoking as it is probably the best, easiest and yet also the hardest step we have ever taken in the right direction. I have been a smoker for 13 years now, which is pretty much half my life. Ryan is going on 20 years as a smoker which is more than half his life. It’s no secret that smoking is pretty much the worst thing you could do to your body and that it robs you of everything while leaving you nothing more than an empty feeling that craves ever more nicotine. There is nothing good about it, but anybody who has ever been a full-time smoker understands the grasp it holds over its victims. Obviously if it was easy to quit, we’d have done it a long time ago. In any case, we have made the final decision that this is the time. Not only do I want to get on with my life and improve my health in drastic ways, but the money we spend on smoking is outrageous. And of course, we want to be as self-sufficient and independent as possible in our lifestyle, so being dependent on a poisonous stick and subsequently on massive corporations who obviously put profits before people just doesn’t jive with what we are trying to achieve.
Last week we invested in a few stop-smoking aids to help us on our journey. We each bought a vapour e-cigarette ($90.00 for two at Micky’s Convenience Store in Richmond, BC) and I bought the book Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Stop Smoking. I’ve heard amazing things about this book and his method and am almost through the book myself. It hasn’t really told me anything I don’t already know, but it has made me reassess my perceived “need” to smoke. I am down to two cigarettes a day and Ryan and I have decided we will each have our final smoke together on Thursday.
It feels great to know I will never have to be a slave to smoking again, but of course it’s not easy to break a habit that has been part of daily life for so long. But the money we will save alone has got me excited about quitting. We probably spend about $50-$60 on cigarettes a week on average between the two of us. That’s more that $200 a month and more that $2,400 a year! In Carr’s book, he explains that the average full-time smoker will need to earn around $350,000 extra in his lifetime to support his habit. I haven’t earned that much in my entire working life so far! It’s absolutely ridiculous, and it ends now. Of course it will be an ongoing process and I will do my best to keep you updated on our progress and success!
Onto the bigger financial picture…
There is nothing like the feeling of being in debt to make you feel oppressed, enslaved and completely dependent on the system – a system I can’t stomach at the best of times. In today’s world, everybody wants your money, and the more in debt you are, the better for the bill collectors. That’s how companies make their money: off of your hard-earned bucks and the added interest that comes from overspending and not having money leftover to pay your bills in full and on time. DON’T FALL INTO THIS TRAP!!!
I like to think I am pretty good with money. I only have one credit card (mainly for the purposes of building credit for when I need it), I have only ever been late on one payment, and I pay my Visa bill in full every month. Granted, that’s because I have an overdraft with a lower interest rate on my chequing account that allows me to do this. Even so, I still maintain a regular savings account and am very conscious about how much I spend, on what and why. In other words, I have never dug myself a hole that has been overwhelmingly difficult to climb out of. Even so, I don’t want to owe anybody even a penny of my hard-earned money, so the other night Ryan and I sat down to discuss our finances in depth for the first real time in our relationship.
We don’t necessarily have a timeline on when we would like to be debt-free as we have a wedding coming up and then I will be returning to school, so there’s no telling what expenses we may incur over the next little while. What we have decided is that we will work within a set budget every week and be conscious all the time of where our money is going, and -of utmost importance- we will avoid owing interest and fees as much as possible. There is no worse feeling than somebody taking a chunk of your money (and hence the time out of your life that it took to earn that money) simply because you didn’t pay the base amount on time. I don’t have balls (literally), and yet it still feels like my balls are in a vice when I owe money. Since Ryan and I are getting married, his debts also become my debts and visa versa, so we know that now is the time to get our finances in order if we are to embark on a happy, healthy relationship and break free from the system that oppresses us all.
One of the greatest things that came out of our financial meeting was the decision to use cash and to stay on budget and keep track of our spending with “the magic jars.” If you’ve ever seen an episode of Til Debt Do Us Part, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, the magic jars are a set of five jars among which you divide your weekly budget. They consist of Food, Transportation, Entertainment, Clothing & Gifts and Everything Else (which for us includes things like make-up, pet food and the like).
Our jars are set up in an accessible place at the entrance/exit of our kitchen. This week we allotted $100 to food, $30 to transportation, $60 to entertainment and $60 to everything else for a total weekly budget of $250.
The jars are a great way to make sure you aren’t spending more than your budget, and a great way to track your spending as you have to make them balance by replacing any spent money with receipts detailing your spending. But using the jars alone won’t ensure you stay on track. You need to be conscious of what things cost and how much of everything you will actually need to get you through, and also be aware of what you already have that might help you save money on purchasing something new. This is a key aspect of sustainability and self-sufficiency: using what you can, budgeting for what you need and rationing what you’ve got. The further you can make your money, your food supply, your car or your free entertainment go, the less you will waste and the more you will save. Pretty simple really, but lots of logical things seem quite simple but in reality are not (ie. quitting smoking or losing weight). It’s simple math: If you spend within your budget, you will not incur debt. If you spend more than you make, you will be in debt. Obviously, we are going to start spending within our budget no matter how many nights we have to spend at home, which thankfully for us could be pretty much every night as we’re not really into “going out” as it is. For other people, this could be as hard as quitting smoking is for me. If you are in the habit of spending recklessly, you will need to re-train yourself to not be so reckless and to enjoy the free and -dare I say it- SIMPLE things in life.
This brings me to my next point; Living frugal and free!
I am not cheap by any stretch. I am the first to spend good money on something if I see it as a good investment, I’m a great tipper and I love to treat my friends and family (and myself) to good food, great experiences and nice things. It is the unnecessary spending that kills me. If I spend more on something than I value it to be worth, it eats away at me. I often get that feeling when I go out to eat. I’ll end up munching away at a meal that is only okay and I figure I could make it just as good if not better for a fraction of the cost at home. I chalk every experience I have like this up to a lesson learned though. Well, I have learned my share of lessons so far in this life, and the value of eating at home is definitely not one I need to re-learn. As one way of cutting down on food cost and feeling more of a connection to the food I eat, I am making a concerted effort to eat at home as much as possible, and to use as much as I can without having to throw away food that has gone bad. For example, I had a loaf of cinnamon bread sitting in the fridge for about a month and a half. Because it was in the fridge, it kept well, but it was crusty and a bit stale. No bother though… I turned it into the best damn French Toast I’d ever eaten! (Here’s the recipe). Likewise, I saw this fabulous recipe for stuffed chicken on the Food Network, but instead of going out and buying all the ingredients, I made do with a couple of Cornish Game Hens we had in the freezer since last August (perfectly fine when thawed), a box of stovetop stuffing (simply because we had it in the house as scratch stuffing is crazy easy and nummy) and half a can of corn. Then I roasted some potatoes we had on hand with some fresh BC garlic and olive oil and voila! All weekend we ate like royalty for next to no cost as we already had all the ingredients in the house. All we needed to do was get creative (kind of) and use them!
My best buddy Lucifer keeping me company while I cook up a storm in my kitchen
(A.K.A. My Happy Place).
Cooking at home and being resourceful was so much fun (I turn these sorts of challenges into a sort of game), that it made me start thinking about other areas of our life where we could cut back on spending and be more resourceful. One such area is definitely entertainment.
Next to food, we spend the most unnecessary money on entertainment, and as I said, we barely even go out! Even so, it’s not cheap to go out or even stay/eat-in in the conventional sense anymore, but there are alternatives. I’ve been focusing on hitting the gym lately. I do pay about $40 a month for a membership, but it’s amazing how much time I can spend there once I just get up and go, and I feel great that I’m doing something that’s both entertaining and healthy and I’m getting my money’s worth! That is good value, so it’s worth the cost. In addition, last night Ryan and I went for a walk as the sun was setting. It was windy and cold, but it was beautiful and fun and we walked and talked and held hands and laughed and kissed. And then we did something neither one of us had done in years… We went to the library.
Both of us had to apply for new library cards as it had been so long since either of us had set foot in a library that we had literally been deleted from their system. But it only took a couple minutes, and of course, it was free! With each of our memberships we are able to take out up to 25 items at a time, and these items range from books to DVDs to video games. For me, I was all about the books. I picked out a classic, a memoir and a few hands-on how-to books (my favourite) on gardening and cooking. Ryan was so excited that he could rent X-Box games for free that I actually heard him say “libraries are awesome!” We like to joke that we’re total geeks, but in all actuality, no matter what you’re into, libraries are pretty effin’ cool!
As much as changing our lifestyle has left me with a bit of an empty pit in my stomach, I’m super excited to embark on this adventure and move closer towards a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. Every challenge is exciting and I’m getting great pleasure out of achieving my own goals and proving to myself that I have the power to make positive changes in my own life and contribute something to the world by being less wasteful and more resourceful.
I’d love to hear from others who are making it their mission to live more simply and sufficiently to discover new ways to conserve finances, resources and the environment. Please feel free to leave comments below if you have any ideas or suggestions!